The Five People You See at an Exhibition Opening

Can you spot them all?

By Michael Hardy October 15, 2013

1. The Hipster

Hipsters have plenty of time to attend exhibition openings since they are either collecting unemployment, working part-time at Half Price Books, or enrolled in a master’s program in an esoteric subject with no job prospects. Although ostensibly there for the art, hipsters can usually be found smoking outside the gallery, often in the company of other hipsters. (Like hyenas, hipsters travel in packs.) They can be spotted by their weather-inappropriate clothing—knit caps and sweaters in the summertime, jean shorts and t-shirts in the winter—and their vintage glasses. Do not ask a hipster what he thinks of the art, as you are likely to receive a string of Frankfurt School platitudes punctuated with references to abstruse theorists the hipster has never actually read and hopes you haven’t either.  

2. The Yuppy

Yuppies attend art openings in pairs, usually at the insistence of the female half, who believes that cultural experiences compensate for the lack of meaning or beauty in the couple’s life. The kind of yuppies who attend art openings consider themselves vastly superior to all the other yuppies, although they are, in reality, virtually indistinguishable. Cultured yuppies profess to “love downtown,” yet invariably live in the same cookie-cutter suburban McMansion and drive the same cookie-cutter SUV as all their friends. Yuppies will purposely dress down for an exhibition, attempting a kind of urban camouflage, but can easily be picked out by their pressed jeans, polo shirts, and leather loafers (for men) and their Louis Vuitton handbags and fake tans (for women).

3. The Alcoholic

Alcoholics love exhibition openings because of the free beer and wine. They arrive early, linger by the bar, and are often among the last to leave the building. To cover up their obvious dipsomania, they often spend their time peering closely at various paintings, as if sizing them up for their personal collection. Most alcoholics at least make an effort to look like they belong at the party, strapping on a faded tie or sporting a threadbare jacket. Many alcoholics attend so many exhibitions that people begin to assume they’re artists. Sometimes, these people are correct.

4. The River Oaks Matron

Few exhibition-goers are more dependable than the River Oaks matron. With her husband either dead or at work, the Matron has nothing to do with her time but patronize the arts. She knows everyone—the gallery owner, the curator, the artist, the art critic—and has even been known to purchase a work of art from time to time, unlike the other people on this list. Her taste runs to Old Masters and French impressionists, although she would sooner be seen without makeup than speak ill of any art. The matron is eagerly courted by museum directors who hope she will give them money in her will and by artists who hope she will buy their work. She can usually be spotted arriving at the exhibition in her late-model Jaguar or Mercedes Benz.

5. The Arts Writer 

Arts writers usually show up to exhibition openings alone, occasionally clutching a steno notepad. Like the alcoholics, they typically head straight for the bar to fortify themselves for the evening. Drink in hand, they scan the room for familiar faces, making a mental note to avoid the artists whose work they recently panned. Giving those artists a wide berth, they take to examining the works, elbowing aside the lesser mortals blocking their view. While engaged in art appreciation, the writer must not under any circumstances be disturbed. The general public should instead display an appropriate deference, remaining mindful of their inferior critical faculties. Remember that the arts writer has condescended to visit this unworthy gallery to survey its so-called “art.” Annoy one, and you risk a career-ending review, or—worse—a snarky comment on their blog. 

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